Jimi Hendrix knew the power of experience. Heck, in the late 60’s they were totally turned on to the concept of experience:
If you can just get your mind together,
Then come on across to me,
We'll hold hands an' then we'll watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea,
Are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have.
So time to tune in and turn on. It’s about to get heavy on September 9th. It’s time to do the right thing. And in a lot of cases, it’s about experience.
Clay Pell, Seth Magaziner, Ken Block are all candidates that could actually win their races without the usual experience backing their run. While many decried the election of Governor Lincoln Chafee, he actually had several terms in Warwick City Council, multiple terms as Mayor of Warwick, and he served in the United State Senate, and was smart enough to vote against the Iraq war. Rhode Island , among the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis would have recovered if they had let the middle class refinanced their real estate a lot sooner. Other than that he signed voter ID. We have lower corporate sales tax. The motor registry is still purgatory because it’s supposed to be, I guess, but it’s better. The sky didn’t fall. We haven’t all moved out. While Chafee’s appointment of the now Hon. Richard Leach to the Superior Court sparks annoyed recollectin’ of Chafee’s election year fight against “cronyism,” in fact Leach did what aspirants to high places do. He positioned himself. He played by the rules, perhaps with the advantage of knowing them, and he actually possesses a great deal of experience and was fully qualified and eligible. One could argue his experience as head of Administration under Gov. Chafee makes him a very valuable asset to the court which needs some “insider” understanding of the way in which the agencies and departments of government function.
Experience or accountability?
Experience is real. It is proved more by time in office or position, which implies a period of accountability. It is evidence that you were there long enough to be evaluated or to have accomplished something. Also, experience is about responsibility. Where you actually the person responsible? Or where you where an intern held responsible only for your individual conduct but not actually for a job, or the performance of a division, department or agency?
Clay Pell has a great education and comes from a great family. He has fine manners. One might even call him a gentleman. But, when he lost his car, there was some snippiness toward the Providence Police. He’s defensive about his resume. His resume shows a young man on his way to high places. But when he got the high place, “Leader of this nation’s world language programs” I think he said, he actually only stayed in the position 6 months. Politifact didn’t show the guts to rate his resume claims as they would have ruthlessly done if he were a Republican, but it’s hard to see how Pell can say he oversaw a 65 million dollar budget when he didn’t fight for the budget, stay long enough to see it executed over an entire fiscal year or live through any challenges to the budget. I suspect he really wasn’t in the job long enough to be rated. Clay Pell appears more a tourist and intern in government than an actual experienced leader.
Seth Magaziner has been endorsed by Bill Clinton. It’s hard to beat that. Like Pell he has a good looking educational pedigree, but his experience to be treasure is “Trillium Asset Management. “ Nobody seems to know what Magaziner really did or what expertise he has. “Trillium Asset Management” is like the Elven cloak Frodo and Sam take cover under as they sneak into Mordor.
But with Clinton’s endorsement it’s hard to see how Magaziner loses. Caprio his opponent in the primary is behind in the polls despite a solid performance when he was treasurer prior to his failed bid for Governor in 2010.There is no GOP candidate for treasurer which is sort of incredible, being the “party of the rich” and all. Ernie Almonte has some experience in government and has been an accountant for 25 years, but he and Magaziner have no real experience in asset management. Caprio as a former treasurer clearly does have the advantage in experience. But on primary day it looks like he’ll be gone in favor of a youth of unknown readiness for a very serious position. I wonder if a court had to appoint a receiver, would they appoint Seth Magaziner?
Dr. Evil? No. Professor Chaos? Perhaps.
Ken Block has never held any elected office. As head of the Moderate Party, which he did fight to create, he nevertheless admitted a violation of campaign finance laws and paid a $10,000 fine. That doesn’t make him Doctor Evil no matter how many times he says One Billion Dollars, but it points to the fact that he is not an unerring messiah who will be mistake free if elected. Moreover, although he took the plea and signed the admission and paid the fine, he sells it now as “political payback” from the board of elections which may be true, but, hell, then you fight it and go down swinging.
Block appears to be a successful businessman, a government contractor at times and a self-starter. His loan to his campaign is at least $600,000 and in the 28 days before the primary report showed loans to his campaign of over a million. The actual amount of fundraising from donors is far, far less. It appears the Ken Block holds no superpowers when it comes to politics if fundraising is the measure. But he doesn’t have to show superpowers, just experience. So far his fundraising looks like a guy who has never held an elected office. Fundraising builds naturally with the stature of the individual and offices held in the past or at present build on that. Pell , with union support has still leant his campaign something like three million dollars while long term incumbent U.S. Senator Jack Reed can raise that kind of dough if he has to.
Power, experience are collective
The power of a candidate is really not individual. It is collective. The experience of a candidate is not wholly individual. It is collective. Ken Block has not taken his business team to this fight; rather he has formed a political team and a new one. Ken Block made a big switch in choosing to run as a Republican this time. Ken’s candidacy itself as a Republican is not a repeat of his Moderate Party effort in 2010, but is almost entirely different. But one thing is similar. Ken Block again says he is the outsider that can fix RI.
But Seth Magaziner and Clay Pell are really running the same campaign. They don’t have experience, so the old saw of “the outsider” or the “new vision” or the “fresh face” the “not a politician” who will be the change agent is the theme. But let’s face it. Those are all just slogans. They are hopes, fancies, and idle speculation. One can only look to the record to see if there is a history that predicts such a future. Clay Pell and Seth Magaziner have no real history to bolster their outsider candidacy. Ken Block’s history suggests, again that he is no messiah, and that he is as mortal and fallible as anyone else.
Block formed a third party to change Rhode Island. Yeah, yeah, Ross Perot was another business man who was sure he had it all right and all he did was give us Bill Clinton instead of Bush 41. Even PBS Frontline recognized 41 was one hell of a president smeared as a wimp by a hateful media. To me, advocating for a third party suggests you don’t get our system and its merits, that you are likely reacting opportunistically to a moment of failure that will not necessarily translate into your success.
In a Parliament, elections may well fail to produce a majority. The party everyone was relieved to see fail to get a majority might actually end up wielding huge power if they are the only path to a governing coalition. Think Nazi party defeated, but Hitler becomes Chancellor anyway. Parliaments have elections and a struggle to form a governing coalition in many cases. We work that out in advance wither in discussion or in primary contests. It hurts, but the smart party heals fast.
No country for old dictators
In the American two party systems, we form our coalitions and suffer the fools around us in advance of the election if we can only agree on one thing. The fate of our state and our country demands we defeat the other party. Notice how we haven’t produced a Hitler or a Napoleon? I’ll say it again. To me, being a third party enthusiast indicates you just jump at the opportunity presented without really understanding our system. Since Ken has now orphaned his party, jumped ship, and taken a “can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em approach to the RI GOP, I guess I win. I award myself the point and congratulate those who disagree with me on their participation. Bless your hearts.
Ken Block also has run a fairly negative campaign which was a mistake. All he had to do was run a positive campaign and let Mayor Allan Fung suffer the little dings and dents of a Mayor under scrutiny in an election season. Writers have to write about something. Mayor Allan Fung, while having a record of experience in three terms as Mayor, also has an opposition effect. There will be some republicans who don’t care if Cranston has an improved bond rating or a surplus or hasn’t had a tax increase in three years. They wanted no increases four years ago, and have been looking for a new Messiah ever since. Anyone who comes along, is the “outsider” they’ve been dreaming of. All Ken Block had to do was be that outsider talking about ways and means. With a positive campaign Pell has risen to be a real threat. Like Pell, Block has some money to spend. While Block can win, Fung has won all the in the party moments and has to be considered still the frontrunner. Moreover, after the primary if Block wins, his negative campaign against Fung may deny him the GOP boost he switched parties for.
Pell is the Messiah for the Teacher and Public Employee unions. Magaziner, well, he was endorsed by the Messiah, the only cool democrat left. And Ken Block is the messiah for those who fantasize that someone is going to come in and “run it like a business.”
Corporations are not government
Is government a business? It really isn’t. First, you can hold government to a higher standard than “ Caveat Emptor.” Secondly, the owner of a business may be an autocrat, effectively a king or queen, benevolent or not, and they can rule by decree. A governor has some powers of executive order, and Block says he has shown the ability to get people behind him. But in his business, I gather he’s the boss. That’s different from being the CEO of a C-Corp.
Governor Carcieri and Bruce Sundlun where from the corporate world, where corporate governance with its bylaws, Board of Directors, shareholders and even competing groups of shareholders involve the CEO and owner in the a form of “governance.” The business entity isn’t their alter ego. So business men Like Don Carcieri, like Bruce Sundlun had experience in the private government that is a large C-corporation, and of course does so does a Mayor of one of our cities and towns, which are themselves municipal corporations.
I believe there are small businessmen and women who can lead Rhode Island. I believe there are professionals, Doctors and lawyers and tradesmen who can lead Rhode Island. Many adults from all walks of life can rise to the occasion with the help of good staffs and the institutions of government that direct their service. But before a voter jumps on the hope that some “outsider,” or “fresh face,” “not a politician” type that has never held office is the new messiah, it is their duty to ask:
Are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Sing it People. And now I want to hear from Franki C, Ernie D for treasurer, and Lady G RaimonD, and the Mayors, Allan Fung and Angel T,: hell, maybe even Ernie A. and Mr. KB.. See if you can sing it:
Well, I have...
A lot of children and people who were coming of age of the 60’s and 70’s like the Hendrix song says “not necessarily stoned, but beautiful,” are going to be voting this election. It’s all about experience. people. Peace. Love. Vote.
Mike Gardiner is an attorney based in Providence, former Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, and host of the Mic Gardiner Show, Tuesdays at 6 PM.
More WBOB Reads